“Power corrupts. Absolute power is kinda neat.”
Powerful effects are fun. There’s nothing like that rush you get when you flip half your deck on the attack and crash in for double-digit damage on an unsuspecting enemy, or when you flip just the right combination of Blues to block an otherwise lethal attack, allowing you to crack back for the win. Creating these kinds of powerful effects are easy. “One of your characters gets Bold 4 until end of turn.” “The upgraded character has +3 Defense.” “Draw 3 cards.” and so on. Balancing these effects is the tricky part. The Bold 4? Has a Blue icon that’s locked to an alt-only trait (Lock On Target). +3 Defense? Only works once, or it has to replace another armor (Emergency Barricade, Ghost Shield). Draw 3 cards? Only if you spend a star, or discard two cards afterwards (Universal Network Access, Inspiring Leadership).
Powerful effects need to come with an appropriate cost or restriction. Otherwise, they can easily take over a game, and push out other strategies. Many games lock these kinds of powerful effects to the late game via their game’s chosen resource system. For example, Magic has a wide variety of resources to use. It’s primary resource is mana. Players play cards by spending Mana, which is usually produced from their lands, which have a restriction of only allowing a player to play one per turn, and only if they have them available. So more expensive cards tend to have more powerful effects, but aren’t always reliable since the player can’t guarantee they’ll have the resources required to play the card on the appropriate turn. Another resource Magic has is a player’s life total. Certain cards and effects allow a player to spend their life total as a resource, either to boost their creature’s stats/abilities, produce mana, or draw cards. Of course, this resource is limited, and also reducing it to 0 is the primary method of winning the game, so these kinds of effects have a high risk/reward factor and tend to appear sparingly.
Transformers’s primary resource is Stars. You’re allowed 25 stars to build your deck and team. Higher star cost characters like Optimus Prime, Battlefield Legend, Major Shockwave, Applied Sciences • Scientist, and Octone, Capricious Agitator have stats and abilities that dwarf characters with lower star costs, and with good reason. You’re spending more than half your team’s allotted star count on these characters, so they tend to form the cornerstone of your deck, and what you build around. Many teams are built to exactly 25 stars for a reason. The difference between a 4-star and a 5-star character is huge, as is the difference between a 12-star and a 13-star. Of course, not every team adds up to a perfect 25 stars, especially if you’re trying to build for a theme. Wave 2 introduced us to Star battle cards, as a way to fill in those last few stars, but they never quite felt enough to make up for the difference in replacing your weakest character with an off-theme one that cost 1 more star. Wave 5 brought us Stratagems as another method to fill this hole. Interesting boosts and unique effects for specific characters to try and help fill that hole. Or, if necessary, allowed cheating star costs for battle cards with Stratagems like the Spotlights, giving you a little extra boost to try and make up for missing a few stars compared to opposing teams.
Of course, investing all these stars into your main character leaves you with a gaping hole in your strategy should that character get KO’d early in the game. Wave 5 brought us a way to mitigate that somewhat with the Titan Master mechanic. Even if you lose your character early, a smaller character will then pop out to continue the fight for one or two more turns. At least, that was the idea behind it, I assume. Unfortunately, the small characters played exceptionally well in aggro decks, and certain Titan Masters and Bodies were leagues beyond others in terms of cost and efficiency. Many older, more expensive characters quickly fell by the wayside, since they did not have access to the health breakpoints that Titan Masters offered, and even the more sturdy, defensive characters started to fall by the wayside from the onslaught of Orange/Black aggro/pierce decks.
But what if there were a way for older characters to harness that same Power that Titan Masters brought to the table? To Master it? Would it help to even the playing field? If you visited the Tabletop Gaming Room at TFCon in Baltimore last weekend, you might have seen me playing a deck featuring these two new upgrades.
Power Masters are a new mechanic we at the Ark are introducing with Ark Wave 2. Intended to grant a similar boon as Titan Masters did in Wave 5, these are a set of Upgrades that have a special effect when scrapped from a character.
For the details on how they work:
- Power Masters begin the game as their Upgrade face as battle cards in your deck. They are not considered part of your starting team, and their faction and traits are not considered for “If you began the game with only <X>” effects like with Confidence or Heroic Spotlight.
- Power Masters are not restricted to single copies. If you have the stars available on your team, you may play as many copies of an individual Power Master as you wish, up to the normal deckbuilding limit of three copies. If you have two stars available, you could play two Hydra Engines, two Buster Engines, or one of each.
- If a Power Master in Upgrade mode is scrapped from your hand (such as via Security Checkpoint) or flipped in battle and not swapped for, it goes to your scrap pile like a normal battle card.
- Power Masters are played onto a character on the battlefield like any normal Upgrade.
- If a Power Master in Upgrade mode would be scrapped from the battlefield for any reason (such as being overwritten by a new upgrade, scrapped by a card’s effect like Ramming Speed or Reprocess, or scrapped due to the character it’s on being KO’d), it deploys to the battlefield in bot mode. This happens even if you have no other remaining characters and can prevent you from losing the game, much like Titan Masters.
- If a Power Master leaves the battlefield any other way, such as being returned to hand by Disarm, or being put onto the bottom of your deck by Impetuous Stand, it remains in Upgrade mode and goes to the specified zone.
- Once a Power Master deploys to the battlefield, it cannot flip back to Upgrade mode. This is a one-way trip, much like Battle Masters flipping to Upgrades on KO, or Titan Masters flipping from head to bot when their attached body is KO’d.
Of course, now that I mentioned it in the rules blurb above, yes, these two upgrades have bot modes to show off!
As a nod to the names of their counterparts from the Japanese series Super God Masterforce, the Buster Engine deploys into Hi-Test and the Hydra Engine deploys into Throttle. Physically, these cards will appear similar to how Battle Masters were, with one face being a battle card, and the other face being a character card. If you do plan on using Battle Masters in your decks, you’ll need to make sure to use fully opaque-backed sleeves, since they will not have a traditional Transformers back. When Ark Wave 2 releases, “substitute” cards featuring the Upgrade face and a traditional TFTCG back will also be on the print sheet, so that you can still use these cards with non-opaque sleeves, or unsleeved, if that’s how you like to roll.
Each Power Master has a real deckbuilding cost built into them, as they are all star cards. Hi-Test and Throttle here are actually the only two Power Masters that cost 1 star. All the other Power Masters we have planned for Ark Wave 2 will cost 2 or more stars. All the Power Masters will also have Green battle icons and two other different colors, to allow them to be played more often. And yes, we are extensively testing them to make sure they don’t break Overwhelming Advantage.
The Power Masters we have planned this set are themed around their “canon” partner. Hi-Test and Throttle here like Planes in their Upgrade mode, but really shine when paired with Dreadwing, as they have a bonus effect when deployed from the Sky Destroyer or either of his components. Hi-Test fires off a Strafing Run, while Throttle grabs whatever he can find from the scrap. Other Power Masters won’t necessarily be as specific, however. They may have generic abilities on their Upgrade side, like Bold or Tough, or their bot mode side won’t care who they were deployed from. We wanted to make sure there were a good variety of effects to encourage players to “mix and match”, much like with the Titan Masters from Wave 5.
Now, you’ve seen my articles before, so I’m not just going to leave you with these two and run. How about a decklist to give you some ideas for a starting point with these two? Specifically, this was the list I brought with me to TFCon to demonstrate Power Masters:
Slipstream, Strategic Seeker
Dreadwind, Air Defense
Blackwing, Aerial Attacker
3 Camien Crash
3 Scan the Vaults
3 Scouting Mission
3 War of Attrition
2 Hold the Line
2 Stable Cover
2 Armed Hovercraft
2 Crude Club
3 Energon Axe
1 Hydra Engine
2 Master Sword
2 Sturdy Javelin
1 Vamparc Ribbon
3 Terrifying Resilience
1 Buster Engine
2 Pocket Processor
1 Staggering Might
Do note that this deck used an earlier version of Throttle which “put” an Upgrade from the scrap pile on himself when deployed from Dreadwing, so he could grab Master Swords if he wanted to. This was quickly identified as “Not a Good Thing”™ and changed so that Throttle only “plays” Upgrades from the scrap.
Of course, there’s many different ways you can build with these two, with or without Dreadwing. This example deck only uses official cards from WotC and cards from our Ark Wave 1. There’s plenty of good options for them from Wave BFA World|Strike, such as Open Agenda, Stim Shock, or the ubiquitous Turnabout Snare. You could also dip into TROP’s Phase 1 for cards like Evasive Action, Die Autobots!, and the aforementioned Impetuous Stand.
If you don’t want to build Dreadwing, you could lean hard into the Planes theme of moving damage, taking Windsweeper, Slipstream, and a 6-star plane like Skywarp, Ark’s Redwing, or Bayformers’ Rabblerouser, and two copies of Hydra Engine//Throttle to really start throwing damage around.
Maybe Blue’s not your thing. What about Orange? There’s plenty to work with, as well. Your card draw options will be a bit more limited, but there’s still Treasure Hunt, Wedge Formation, and even Testify in a pinch, or my favorite: Ancient Wisdom. Buster Engine//Hi-Test was specifically designed to help Dreadwing fight hand disruption and get to the required three cards in hand so that he can combine in the first place, since he puts you up a card when played on a Plane, just watch out for Hijack.
Of course, there are always concerns about power level. Introducing a major new mechanic like this will definitely raise some eyebrows, especially since it plays very closely to Titan Masters from Wave 5. Going back to before, powerful things are fun. Players enjoy doing them, but there needs to be some kind of risk/reward factor to it. A safety valve to ensure it does not just dominate the game and shove out all other options. There’s nothing wrong with taking a Leap of Faith into uncharted territory, but you need to be aware that sometimes you’ll just… Stuff the Landing.